Why are the playoffs so different than the regular season? I'm talking about style of play, level of intensity, and officiating.
The officiating changes noticeably from game 82 to game 1 of the first round. Although it's not as drastic of a change, players are still allowed a more liberal interpretation of hooking, interference, roughing, etc. In the final 5 minutes you would have to do something heinous to draw a penalty. The referees want the players to decide the game. This being understood, teams count on, or come to expect, this shift in officiating as the playoffs begin.
I believe this helps less talented teams, such as this year's Bruins or last years Anaheim Ducks. The 8 seeded Ducks ousted the San Jose Sharks and gave the Red Wings a 7 game scare in round two last season. They did this by rough housing, and taking advantage of the refs 'putting away the whistles'.
The Sabres top 2 lines are ill-suited for this rough style of play. Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Tyler Ennis, and Tim Connolly are not gritty forwards. They are quick strike snipers who require precision and room to work. Their powers are decreased by a tighter checking environment. An environment caused by the lack of tight officiating. I'm not complaining, i'm just pointing out a fact. I believe the Sabres would be best suited to adapt to this reality than to try and force their style upon the league, and count on a bevy of tripping calls. Those calls aren't ever gonna come.
The Sabres 3rd and 4th lines have fluorished in this 'Wild West' atmosphere. Mike Grier totally gets it and He's taking every opportunity to inflict pain on the opponent. During the regular season, he would be getting boarding calls for some of his nasty hits, but he understands that in the playoffs the rules are simply different. The Sabres staff has also realized this, bringing up Cody McCormick and giving more ice time to Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair, Mike Grier, Patrick Kaleta and Tim Kennedy.
The game itself is sped up as far as players having less time to make each pass before expecting the next thundering check. The races for the puck are more hard fought. SImply look at the Recchi vs. Tim Kennedy battle that resulted in a Boston goal in Game 3. In the regular season, those two players probably glide into the boards and then poke at the puck with sticks instead of going shoulder to shoulder.
I love the increase in intensity, it's what I live for as a fan. It's part of what makes games memorable. Nobody remembers the regular season game against the 'Canes in November where there were 4 total penalty minutes. But every fan will remember this series.
Why are the playoffs different? The answer is simple; there is so much more on the line. In the regular season if you lose, you go home, forget about it, and play again tomorrow. In the playoffs, there is no tomorrow. Players are fighting for pucks, goals, wins, Cups, and their jobs next year.
It's Playoff Time!
The Whistles are put away. And it's up to the Sabres to realize that. Time to toughen up; or get out of the playoffs.